The Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) has finally been forced to temporarily close its training project in Baghdad over fears for the safety of its journalists and students.

The team was four days into a new three-week training project with a group of Baghdad journalists, but their base in Baghdad was closed by the IWPR board when staff received intelligence about planned attacks on foreigners in the Mansour region of the city.

"What really finally pushed us out was the increase in house invasions and abductions," said Maggy Zanger, training director for the IWPR's Iraq project.

"The threat of kidnapping from your house and possible beheading is quite intimidating. How long can one work effectively in that kind of environment?"

IWPR established the Baghdad project during the summer of 2003, and has set up local networks, practical training sessions and discussion groups to help local journalists report first-hand on their own area.

"We just hate to let the bastards win," said Ms Zanger.

"This is exactly what they want - to chase out anyone who might make a positive difference."

Some trainee journalists still in Baghdad were given computers by IWPR when the project closed and are still able to work with the staff by email. Two journalists also landed jobs with the Chicago Tribune and Financial Times after their IWPR training and continue to work in Baghdad.

"They took me aside to express their gratitude," Ms Zanger told dotJournalism.

"One said 'We owe you our lives. Before IWPR we were nothing. Now we have jobs and we have respect.'

"I told him all we did was give them an opportunity that everyone deserves."

Despite the closure, IWPR has received new funding and will be expanding the programme to other Iraqi cities in the next few months. The team and 10 students have been moved to the city of Sulaimaniyah, about 130 miles north of Baghdad, and plan to launch new projects to cover radio and TV training. Students are now working on a daily newspaper to cover the city's human rights festival from the 1 to 10 October.

"I love Suli and I'm happy to be back. It is a different world and you cannot imagine the difference not hearing bombs go off all day and helicopters overhead," said Ms Zanger.

"I can walk in the streets, shop for groceries, talk to people in the streets - normal things that are just not possible in Baghdad right now."

IWPR had reported that security had improved following the handover of power to the Iraqi interim government, but the threat of kidnap and beheadings has increased recently following the abduction and murder of several Westerners. The British government is still working for the release of British engineer Ken Bigley, who was kidnapped outside his home in Baghdad on 17 September.

IWPR also runs training projects in Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Balkans, central Asia and Africa. The IWPR website, which won two awards at last year's NetMedia online journalism awards, is a major platform for students' work, and its articles are also syndicated to international news organisations including the BBC.

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